Fallen Labels of D&B – Critical on the Cusp

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My journey through Drum & Bass has been an eclectic one; it began as a fear, my best man on the block, Triv to the Arnold, whilst I was listening to Clubland, Ministry of Sound and Hardcore Dance, was always putting out the Garage, Hip-Hop & aggressive hard-hitting sounds of DJ Hype and whatever else Drum & Bass Arena had to offer in its plethora of compilations and MC hosted mixes.

All that angry drumming and those scary sounding men was too much for me then (Unknowingly though was I already a fan in the likes of LTJ Bukem and Goldie) and though I had time for Garage, even then I didn’t care for Hip-Hop, to me it was all Daytime Radio pop rubbish. Pendulum’s Hold Your Colour was the breakthrough, more melodic, fun, interesting and there was the vital Liquid element. Now days I’m a Drum & Bass, Breakbeat and Bass hunting fiend. Over all other electronic elements, it’s where my heart lies (Accept for maybe Chillout and Trip-Hop…).

So considering all this, I’ve had my time with many labels. Three of them being labels that since have fallen from grace; Hospital, once an inspiring beacon of High Contrast & Hospital_records1London Elektricity Grooves is now a giant mess of glossy trash from the same two producers that I used to offer unfathomed respect, and for the former producers that they once were, I do still offer that respect. Though the label has pulled itself back from the gloom of commercial garbage with the occasional banger from S.P.Y or Enei and also in the form of sister label; Med School Music, which does stray from time to time but on the whole is a decent land of big and interesting sounds.

Then there’s Andy C’s Legendary Ram Records. I remember getting excited about Ram events and seeing Andy C Live, doing his three deck magic, which to be fair, despite dropping a few cringers, is still worth watching just for the pure energy in the room and technical ability. Nowadays I feel that same cringe, the one when I hear a cringer, come imagescreeping over me when I so much as hear the words Ram or Andy C. Why? Same reason as Hospital; it went from a label specialising in a decent sound, in this case, pretty hard hitting beats, into a downward spiral of masses pleasing bullshit. Just for the record, because it pleases the masses doesn’t make it good music, the masses aren’t generally people that love music that much and so their tastes are pretty generic. You can please the masses with amazing music also but it’s much easier to cop-out and churn out some trash instead.

And then there’s the most recent label to turn; Shogun Audio, Friction’s baby. Now I love the name Shogun Audio and I don’t cringe when I hear it, maybe just because it’s such a sick name. Shoguns are sick. But on the whole, despite putting out the occasional banger download(Like any label really, good or bad. They all have their moments.) they were the shining light after Ram’s collapse. Shogun was the new sound; Icicle & Alix Perez tearing about the scene. But now it’s pumping out putrid polished glow-stick party anthems with Friction often being the man behind the current abomination. A man who used to make the peng-peng all day long.

Now it’s Critical that I’m scared for. It’s only last year that I became ever more in tune with current electronic music, thanks to SoundCloud and it’s only last year that I really gave Critical the attention they deserved, stating them as my favorite label around March time. They’ve got Foreign Concept, the Ivy Lab and Enei, headed by bossman Kasra. How could it go wrong? Well I attended a few Critical nights last year and when they had Room One – Fabric for the very first time they blew my mind near in two.

Critical-Logo-2012 Despite what I’d heard about Enei putting out a stinking set he absolutely smashed it start to finish and Foreign Concept & the Ivy Lab boys ripped into one of the most well constructed, interesting and surprising sets I’ve ever had the pleasure of sweating out to. Saw the Tag Team EP launch night and despite grand sets from the same culprits, it was Mefjus & Emperor that… well it was like taking a step back a few years and watching a Noisia obsessant pump out Neuro after Neuro after ever rolling Neuro and after a few minutes of mayhem it was nowt but boring beats. That scared me, especially considering that I have a fair few Mefjus & Emperor tracks that I proper rate. But seriously, those boys and Kasra have been putting out some sounds not too shy of stinkin’. Stinkin’ shit. Well, when compared to what else is going on in the Drum & Bass scene at the minute; Exit, Astrophonica and the likes of Stray (Who’s on their fucking label by the way.) making some beats far beyond anything else heard at 170.

Critical is probably the most popular and sort out “Underground” Drum & Bass label that there is. There’s Dispatch, Soul:R, Samurai etc. but Critical is definitely up there as one of the biggest, if not THE biggest. Which is exactly why it’s in danger of fast becoming the new Shogun. Whether it’s making more “shit” Drum & Bass that gets you bigger or maybe it’s getting bigger that forces you to make “shitter” Drum & Bass, I don’t know, but either way, the two pair up time and time again in every sector of the music industry that there is. Consequently, I’ve gone from bumming Critical to liking and fearing for them all in the space of twelve months. It’s been one hell of a ride though. And hey I’m not saying that they don’t put out some colossal bangers either but if your seeking advice on how to continue being a powerful label of grand size but still command the respect of a label sticking to it’s pure Drum & Bass routes, look no further than Metalheadz. One of the Biggest, Best and more importantly, Oldest labels there is AND STILL making the peng and only ever very, very, very rarely slippin’. A prime example of being huge, making P’s and still being sick.

But trust me, it’s not all doom & gloom for Critical… not just yet anyway. As they’ve stabbed my cynicism in the face with a pike of ping fresh out of the basket. It’s an LP set out to start 2014 with a dominating presence and it will do just that. I’m holding myself tight with elation at the return of Ivy Lab, Mefjus & Emperor both kicking my slander in the teeth with some wickedly devious sounds, Noisia & the Upbeats completely flipping the switch on the expected and putting out some calm notes and there’s treats from huge names all round. It’s not the sickest LP in Drum & Bass that I’ve heard in ages, but it’s definitely an LP that says “Boss, we’re still here alright.”.

Honourable words Critical, but for how long?

Get the LP here in whatever format you like – www.surus.co.uk/Critical-Music/Critical-Music-Presents-Underground-Sonics

Josh

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